Parliament 5th Sept 2014

As Parliament reopens this week, Liz Truss (Con, South-West Norfolk) will have been warming up for her first full session as DEFRA Secretary of State, reports Catherine Paice.

Ms Truss had little time to make her mark before the summer recess was upon us. Her first environment questions in the House of Commons, at the end of the last session, were met with a cool calm. Apart from a small verbal emission, this remained the case even when farming minister George Eustice (Con, Camborne and Redruth) sat straight down on her lap. He extracted his posterior with an alacrity rarely seen in the chamber.

On every possible occasion since then, Ms Truss has made it clear that as far as badgers are concerned, she is in her predecessor Owen Paterson’s sett. So too with her determination to promote British food, put more of it on supermarket shelves and reduce the food trade deficit.

Badgers apart, she will face strong resistance to the increasingly complicated implementation of CAP reform. She has already called on the European Commission for a review of the three-crop rule – to her way of thinking, it is a barrier to being able to respond to consumer demand.

In a similar vein, it was the whole food chain that was addressed in the House of Lords, in a debate on the role of agriculture and the food industry in the UK economy on 24th July. This was the subject of the previous Parliament in Perspective column (15th August) and, given the length of the debate, we promised you more. Strong opinions emerged from banter about barley bushel weights – and much of it was about reinforcing the cornerstones of food production in order to deliver what was needed.

Lord Trees, a vet and chairman of the Moredun Research Institute, stressed the importance of endemic disease research – mastitis, lameness, reproductive and parasitic diseases and, of course, TB – as fundamental to productivity. “It is also important that we gear incentives to reward health,” he said.

Baroness Parminter called for a clear agenda linking the work on health and the work on food production strategies to feed the extra billions in coming decades. For the baroness, that means working with nature and the environment to conserve the resources that we will need in future – soil and water – to grow the food that will be needed.

“We have the agri-tech strategy, and we have the responsibility deals – but they are not brought together,” she said. “We do not have a co-ordinated strategy for linking the work that we need to do on health and on producing food in a sustainable way. What’s happened to DEFRA’s Green Food Project, with all its stakeholders, launched in 2012, for example?”

Without wishing to end on a damp note, calling a halt to the runaway social media/retail scam – the ice-bucket challenge – might be a start.

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